This week we interview middle school art teacher Nellie Mitchell, who was named Missouri’s Art Educator of the Year 2012. An avid blogger and photographer, she talks about the challenges and rewards of being an educator, how to integrate technology in the classroom, and gives some solid advice for new art teachers.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an art teacher?
This changes day-to-day. Sometimes all it takes is one kid saying, “I want to be an art teacher or an artist when I grow up.” It is such an affirmation that I am doing great things when children aspire to be just like me. Other days, it is the ‘aha-moment’ that happens when a student makes a connection with a great work of art, or creates something really amazing.
How does art education benefit children outside the classroom?
Art enhances and enriches all learning experiences. It teaches students to problem solve, builds confidence, and fosters creativity. By learning about art and art process, students develop a capacity to persevere, focus, and demonstrate accountability. They learn to develop an idea, visualize it and then create a product to show others through a new medium. An understanding of visual art and an appreciation for art should be part of any well-rounded learning program.
What is the most surprising thing that has ever happened to you in your career?
In 2012, the Missouri Art Education Association recognized me as the Missouri Art Educator of the Year. It was an amazing honor to be nominated by a parent and a colleague and I even got to go to the National Convention in New York City that year—a first for me!
What are the top challenges art educators face and how can they be overcome?
The most challenging thing about my job is the strict, fast-paced schedule and the early mornings. I am a morning person, but it can be very challenging to maintain the 10-11 hour workdays. (But you get summers off, shouts the non-education crowd!)
Generally, I only have short time ‘off ‘ in the summer because I immerse myself in other artistic ventures. As an artist, I try to show my work, update my portfolio and maintain on my blog.
Other challenges faced by art teachers include a shrinking budget, the demands of learning new technology, large classes and short prep time, and garnering support from administration.
My best advice is to take initiative to build relationships with colleagues. By building a solid network of teachers, you will find that you will have a lot more support from other staff members, parents and even the administration. The more positive your relationships are with everyone around you, the more valued your program will be.
If you could give any advice to a new art teacher starting out, what would it be?
Establish your procedures early in the school year – make sure your students know what is expected of them.
There will be days when you will be completely overwhelmed. It is important not to let those days completely get you down. With all of the demands (grading, art shows, displays, requisitions, test training, technology, behaviors, managing materials, community involvement, etc.) and 100’s of students who need you, and might not appreciate all you do for them, it is easy to get down on yourself. But remember the bigger picture, art is essential and fun. There will be days when you just need to take a breath, shut down your computer, and turn off the lights, close the door and worry about it tomorrow.
We see that you often try to incorporate technology into your art lessons, why do you think it’s important?
At this point, technology integration is an added bonus or a small part of what students do in my classroom. Keyboarding, word processing, and other digital products like Powerpoints or iMovies are introduced to students at a much younger age than previously taught. Technology can completely transform the creative experience allowing students to use digital media to really showcase their ideas.
Too much screen time can also be bad for kids, as some studies are now saying. I enjoy having access to iPads in my classroom, and it would definitely stifle my options if I did not have some sort of big screen to show images and videos to my students. I use technology to show videos, and allow my students to look up visual references, especially when drawing. Some students learn best through hands-on, direct lessons, but plenty of my students can learn very quickly by looking at a picture, reading a post, or watching a video.
I usually try to incorporate some sort of technology as often as possible into my regular lesson planning, not as an afterthought, but as an essential fluid element to the lesson. In the future, my students are going to need to learn how to navigate all the resources that are available. They will be able to learning anything, anywhere, anytime, if they are interested in learning how to do something, the information is out there. They are the ones that will have to sift through the videos, pin boards, Google results, blogs and infographics so I feel some responsibility in preparing them for that future.
After attending a rural high school in southwest Missouri, Nellie took advantage of the ‘international mission’ and traveled abroad as often as she could throughout college to places around Europe as well as, Australia and New Zealand. She graduated in December of 2005 with a bachelors in art education and describes her first position teaching high school art appreciation first block as ‘tough’. Now teaching 5th and 6th graders, she also works with a local art center to provide educational programming, and facilitates a biannual arts and crafts retreat for women called Nelliepalooza.
Check out Nellie’s amazingly colorful blog here, you’ll find lots of inspiration: thislittleclassofmine.weebly.com
Image: “What I want to be when I grow up” by NehirŠen (8 yo) from Turkey